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Operetta Tanuki Goten

Princess Raccoon

Japan 2005
produced by
Ikki Katashima, Satoru Ogura, Noboyuki Tohya (executive) for Dentsu Inc, Nippon Herald Pictures, Shochiku
directed by Seijun Suzuki
starring Zhang Ziyi, Jo Odagiri, Hiroko Yakushimaru, Mikijiro Hira, Taro Yamamoto, Gentaro Takahashi, Saori Yuki, Miwako Ichikawa, Hibari Misora (stock footage), Eisuke Sasai, Papaiya Suzuki, Taro Nanshu, Federico Aletta
written by Yoshio Urasawa, music by Michiru Oshima, Ryomei Shirai, music performed by Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, visual effects supervisor: Norio Ishii

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Somewhere in fairytale land: King Azuki Momoyama (Mikijiro Hira) wants to be the most beautiful human alive ... but unfortunately, his son, Prince Amechiyo (Jo Odagiri), is even more handsome than he is - so he has him (like his mother before him) banished to Sacred Castle, a place from where noone has ever returned. However, Ostrich, the ninja supposed to bring him to the castle, is stopped cold by a group of peasants on the way, and - thought to be a raccoon - captured to be cooked later on.

Amechiyo meets Princess Raccoon (Zhang Ziyi), a raccoon in human form, and the two frolic around in the woods a bit before she brings him back to Raccoon Castle where the Prince, not a raccoon and therefore a possible threat, is put in a cage. Still, Amechiyo and Princess Raccoon soon fall in love ...

Soon enough, the Maid of Virgin, Azuki's right hand woman, comes to claim Amechiyo's head and captures him and Princess Raccoon, but in a duel of stone-paper-scissors, Hagi, the Princess' handmaid, defeats the Maid of Virgin and kills her (!), thus freeing both Prince and Princess.

The two lovebirds now see themselves free to marry, but Hagi still thinks Amechiyo's a threat to the Princess and to Castle Raccoon, so she persuades him to leave. However, Princess Raccoon goes after her lover and catches up with him just when he comes face to face with his father Azuki. In a fight, the Princess kills Azuki but is herself gravely wounded, and will die eventually if not treated with the Frog of Paradise. Since Prince Amechiyo would do anything for his love, he sets out to find the Frog of Paradise, a long and perilous journey, and when he has finally found it, he is to weak to bring it back to Castle Raccoon. Out of jealousy though, Hagi has gone after Amechiyo, but when she sees him dieing but still handing the Frog of PAradise over to her to bring her Princess, she sees him in another light.

Back at Castle raccoon, Princess Raccoon is cured by the Frog of Paradise, but when she hears that Amechiyo died trying to retrieve it, she kills herself.

In the land of the dead, Amechiyo and Azuki have their final showdown, which Amechiyo wins when his father notices how horribly disfigured he has become.

Back in Castle Raccoon, some kids try the Frog of Paradise on the bodies of Princess Raccoon and Prince Amechiyo again - and wouldn't you know it, the frog still works and restores them back to life ... and they can live happily ever after, even though he is a man and she is a raccoon ...

 


No matter what kind of movies you normally watch, it's a safe bet to say this film is like nothing you've ever seen (with the possible exception of Seijun Suzuki's own somehow similar Pistol Opera): While quite clearly a children's fairy tale in story and a musical or operetta by genre, in style it's a wild, even outrageous mixture of elements of Kabuki as well as Shakespearean theatre, fantasy as well as avant garde film, of modern CGI and most primitive stage effects, of all different kinds of music from operetta to pop and rock and even rap, and even in sets, the film is (deliciously) undecided between realistic outdoor sets and sloppily painted stage backdrops. But if all that sounds like lacking a concept or forced, brainheavy or heavy handed, the film isn't, it's light, it's fresh, it's entertaining, it's even funny - and it shows that even at 82, director Seijun Suzuki is one of the most creative and most unpredictable directors of Japanese cinema.

Highest recommendation.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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